Are You Recognizable in Your Parish? Should You Be?

Are you recognizable to the average attendee at your parish? Should you be?

Good question.

I’ll backpedal a bit first…one of the things that surprised me when I began formation as a lay ecclesial minister was that the question of if, say a Director of Evangelization, Adult Faith Formation Coordinator, Director of Religious Education, etc. should be a parishioner at the same parish where he/she is employed. Coming from significant time in evangelical Protestant settings, I found this culturally perplexing–I’d never known anyone on ministry staff in any of my Baptist churches that maintained “membership” elsewhere.

There’s as much individual variety in this question as any, i.e. circumstances where a person works far from where they live due to family or financial needs, situations where language/cultural differences in parishes drive a specific choice, times when one’s “home” parish simply doesn’t offer any employment opportunities in a person’s field, etc.

But, let’s enter a generic (aka like none of our lives!) situation, an imaginary vacuum of sorts. Chris Wesley asks the essential question: “If someone needed a youth minister [in your parish/church] would they know exactly who to walk up to?” I encourage you to frame it more broadly and ask this: is your position on staff as a lay ecclesial minister one that a person who is less-engaged (i.e. not attending Mass weekly, checking parish website, etc.) would need to talk to?

Maybe it’s because you’re leading the RCIA team or Alpha–ministries where the less-engaged might find a starting point. Maybe it’s because you’re key for helping people discern their gifts and connect to ministries to serve in. Maybe it’s because you’re coordinating children’s ministries and rarely get a chance to talk to the adults who drop-off kids at your programs.

If this seems like you, Wesley sends an encouragement to simply be present around weekend Masses. Not in a way that compromises your own participation in worship and liturgy–but as something intentional flowing from your staff role. (See Must-Implement Concept #9 on the importance of including this in job descriptions).  Doing this, Wesley writes, “not only maximizes your impact, but creates a loving and relational culture. That type of environment is why people will come back to your church.”

Be present and be approachable.

How you do this will depend on your role, your personality, your parish, and more. But the point is to do it. Take the step to offer more connection, more person-to-person contact, and see what fruit it brings in terms of relationships with those you serve–and fruit in your own spiritual life. Many in ministry recognize a humility in being behind the scenes–and this is a good thing. However, you’ll never know how God may be wanting to use you to offer a smile, a well-spoken word, a consolation, a hug, much needed empathy, or simply a reminder that they are not alone, to those who aren’t at your “regular” ministry events. Our parish campuses/grounds are the perfect place to first embody the love of Jesus that we week to bring to the entire world.

The New York Times on the New Art of Flickr
Image: Thomas Hawk via Flickr
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Millennials in Ministry: Lencioni Thinking

Too often, people in church-world speak of “reaching” Millennials as if we’re some “foreign entity” (h/t Tim O’Malley) or a group solely in need of being reached/served/ministered to, in contrast to being baptized-believers whom God is already at work in and through–right now.

Patrick Lencioni, co-founder of Amazing Parish, offers these thoughts on Millennials:

As it turns out, there is a better way to think about hiring good people than focusing on a person’s generational stereotype. It comes down to looking for three simple, timeless and observable virtues that are reliable predictors of whether someone of any age will be a good team player. Thankfully, while generations change, the nature of teamwork does not.

I agree! A healthy organization is a healthy organization not because of the particular generational identities of its members, but because of their common commitment, the way the relate, and the way they make decisions together.

Millennials are largely missing from the teams of leaders in many church ministrieswhat holds us back? Maybe, a better appreciation of what makes a healthy organization and what cultivates effective teamwork is a missing piece. We don’t know how to “talk” about being an effective ministry organization because we lack the vocabulary, and so we default to stereotypes, thinking it’s because of a person’s age, marital status, regional identity, race, gender, etc. that “we can’t work well together” or “we always communicate poorly.”

As I’ve said before, I highly recommend Lencioni’s The Advantage for anyone in ministerial leadership. And 🙂 as a Millennial, I’m looking forward to reading Lencioni’s latest book, The Ideal Team Player, to see how it connects with each of our own baptismal vocations in ministry and some of the classic scholarship on “courageous followership.”

Have you read “The Advantage” or plan on reading “The Ideal Team Player” through a ministry lens? Share your thoughts in the Comments.

Millennial Scrabble
Jeff Djevdet (Flickr), CC by 2.0

Vocation. Integration. Combination.

Patrick Didonato on work, ministry, and personal integration:

For the lay disciple, what is the difference between being just a great [insert a job title here] and working for the Church full-time?

It’s not just one or the other, but rather, audaciously fusing the two in every aspect of our lives.

That’s our mission as intentional disciples.

Why is this so important?

Because becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ and following Him means recognizing that God cares what we do with our time. Yet, this doesn’t mean that every single person who calls Jesus Lord is called to work (paid or volunteer) “full-time” in the Church. Church work is not, by default, better than secular work–or not working for pay, etc. This would fail to acknowledge that as Christians, we are not of the world–yet still in the world–and called to bring the Gospel into all spheres of society.

Failure to fuse or integrate the two ideas also reveals some real human resources issues in our design of “jobs” in ministry, i.e. treating full-time work as “better” or “more significant” than part-time work, rather than looking at actual outcomes; of thinking “more hours” is better (when this may prevent healthy integration of ministry and human formation/needs); and closing out many potential candidates for ministry work due to our own inability to recognize the evolution in more flexible work policies, and more.

To work “in the Church” or not is a false, humanly constrained set of choices. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must pursue something more–“audaciously fusing” and integrating our lives in a way that opens us the most to follow the Holy Spirit and embrace the renewed life offered to us in communion with Jesus Christ.

 

Renewing Ourselves Before “Fixing” Those Volunteers

The more I talk to parish ministry staff and volunteer leaders, the more I hear about how finding enough, quality volunteers is a challenge. Sometimes so much of a challenge that a leader can become overwhelmed by this–and only see this barrier. It can get discouraging. Plus, the wrong volunteers to continue planning, implementing, and assessing any new initiative in church-life can doom even the most brilliantly inspired and prayerfully discerned new direction. We’ve got a tag going here on this blog for Volunteer Management, and here’s the latest…some practical tips from experienced Children’s Ministers, that apply to us all:

Let’s start with ourselves (not the prospective volunteers), here’s what we need to stop doing…

  1. Making announcements (pulpit, bulletin, social media, etc.) in a vacuum and expecting to get the right volunteers.
  2. Feeling guilty about recruiting volunteers, and thus procrastinating (leading to all sorts of other problems in training, discernment, quality, etc.).
  3. Relying on leaders (or the dedicated few) as routine “substitutes”–it’s okay to substitute sometimes, but if this is routine, it really just means you’re avoiding the heart of the matter when it comes to formation and recruiting.
  4. Not having a clear plan, vision, and mission for your volunteers (and waiting until you “have some” to figure this out).
  5. Taking setbacks personally and leaving prayer out of the equation.


What to do instead?

  • Spiritual formation first! Set ministry volunteering within the proper context of stewardship as a disciple’s response to God’s love–a “get to,” not a “have to.”
  • Pray, pray, pray–for God’s guidance to give you eyes to see needs, others, etc.
  • Build relationships. All the time. With current volunteers and potential/future ones. Relationships, not announcements work.
  • Do more listening. As Tom McKee explains (in the interview this post is based on):

I often find that if I listen, that “no” actually means one of several things: “Not now — I’ve got too much on my plate;” “Not this position — I have other gifts I’d like to use;” “Not with this present leadership;” or “Not in your lifetime.” Listen carefully to the excuses.

  • Think of recruiting volunteers like dating–take the time to get to know the person, don’t force them to make a huge yes/no/forever commitment to serve once as part of discerning ministry, progressively build into greater responsibility, get to know the person’s strengths and don’t be afraid to use these strengths, know when it’s okay to prayerfully discern a “no” or “let me introduce you to another ministry…”

 

 

From Parish Volunteerism to Discipleship Culture

I cringe a little at using the word “volunteer” with regards to ministering in the local church. It makes it sound so optional, an extra add-on. The reality is that almost all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ have been given gifts to be used for the building up of the Body of Christ. A “right and duty” more than an “If I have time and if I’m needed…” option.

But 🙂 practically-speaking, the word “volunteer” in a broader, secular sense simply means one who is not paid for their labor/services. Our parishes and ministries are filled with volunteers. If you know of a disciple-making Catholic parish without lots of volunteers, I’d be interested to the the model–simply because it is so rare! For most of us then, volunteer management is a key component of our administration and leadership. Management of volunteers requires just as much intentional planning and attention to human resource practices as does management of employees!

With that in mind, here are 5 key questions to examine your own volunteer culture from Rich Birch, 5 Heart-Check Questions about the Volunteer Culture at Your Church | unSeminary.

All five may be useful, depending what stage your volunteer cultivation is at–but Birch’s #1 question on culture–Are you helping them grow in their relationship with Jesus?–shines a light into an area many of us can certainly improve in!

For Catholic ministries, there’s a more fundamental, critical question than Birch’s, and it’s this: has each of your volunteers had the foundational, fundamental conversion, i.e. the “conversion [that] means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple”? (Redemptoris Missio, 46).

Most (but not all) times I’ve volunteered in Catholic ministry, no one has asked me about this conversion, this decision. I suppose it was either assumed or considered not something relevant or worth talking about. And it wasn’t skipped because of my outward fruits, since in some cases I was brand-new to the Catholic community. To put in bluntly, a background check prior to working with children was a non-negotiable (for good reason!). But, any details concerning my conversion or present relationship with Christ were optional.

If we skip over the “growth as a disciple” aspect of volunteer culture, we’re sending folks into ministry who are not able to “give” what they have not yet fully realized they’ve received! While a volunteer may be baptized, if grace of baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit are not fully unleashed, their impact in ministry will be limited. We’re doing the volunteer (as well as those served) a disservice. Just think how hard it would be to sustain oneself in volunteer ministry without a daily walk with Jesus as friend.

Start with the basics–conversion and decision for Jesus Christ. Don’t turn away interested volunteers who are not yet conscious disciples, but instead enter into a new relationship with them to grow, mentor, and disciple them so that they are ready to make a decision for Christ and become the volunteers you [and our Church!] most deeply need.

You may want to develop a parish-specific version of this “Discipleship Road Map” from the FOCUS Catholic Ministry to help name the discipleship stages of your volunteers. By doing this you’ve created a path for growth, and set the conditions so that all are welcome to come and grow, i.e. if someone volunteers as a children’s catechist, and through an interview you discover that they aren’t sure about deciding to be Jesus’s disciple, maybe place them as an assistant with a more mature disciple, who can meet with them outside of class to serve as a spiritual mentor. Through this person’s presence in a catechetical setting where the kerygma is clearly proclaimed, he/she can experience foundational conversion and make a decision to yield one’s life to Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit!

 

Ministry Hires: Building Applicant Pools Internally and Externally

Your parish or ministry is looking for a new leader. A new staff member. Where to go?

Many organizations submit a job description to a diocesan human resource page–maybe post it on a larger search engine like catholicjobs.com–and leave it at that. An “if we build it, they will come” approach.

Now this is a good start, but people are important. Arguably, the most important leadership and administrative decision when it comes to shaping the organizational effectiveness of your parish or ministry. Building up and strengthening an applicant pool for any open position is critical to ensuring your team can make a positive discernment and decision, and leverage the talents and spiritual gifts present in the Body of Christ.

Ideas for Expanding the Pool

  • Consider the Diversity of Your Area. If your current staff does not reflect the cultural or demographic diversity of the geographic area where you minister, set a goal to recruit at least one candidate (preferably more) who do reflect the demographics (race, ethnicity, language, age, etc.).
  • Pursue Success. Keep your eyes open for those who’ve been successful in similar roles in other churches/ministries, especially if they’ve grown or transformed their area of ministerial focus. Reach out and explain that your parish might not be to their vision yet, but you’re interested in their potential to serve as a change leader with a vision. If they’ve been building a strong ministry for many years in one location, they likely have able assistants ready to step up. By recruiting proven leaders to the areas of most need, you’re creating opportunity for others to grow.
  • Have a Dream. Share your dream, your vision for the particular ministry area you’re recruiting for with your entire staff, parish council, and/or other trusted volunteer leaders. Ask them to pitch the dream to individuals they know who might be motivated to take it on and then encourage them to apply for the position.
  • Plant Seeds Within Your Community. As Fr. Michael White writes, “be constantly on the lookout for new talent so that when the inevitable happens and someone leaves you’ve already got a pool of likely candidates.”
  • Contact Educational Institutions. Many centers of formation for Catholic lay ministers are hosted within larger educational institutions. While these institutions may have well-resourced career centers, these career centers rarely focus on forging connections with dioceses, etc. to help new ministry graduates. Build contacts and relationships with programs producing lay ministers so that through professors and directors of formation you can get connected to qualified candidates who might be a great fit for your ministry.

Many debate the merits of hiring from within vs. hiring externally. I think that’s a conversation that doesn’t require a set answer. More important than internal vs. external, is small applicant pool vs. large. Build your applicant pool, so that you aren’t discerning out of scarcity, but instead discerning based on the wide array of gifts God has given the Church and the Body of Christ for ministry.

Benchmarking: Priests Lead the Way (Statistically) in Administrative Work

Catholic priests spend twice as much time per week “administering congregation’s work and attending meetings” (via What do clergy do all week? | Pulpit and Pew).

This survey is old (from the turn of the century, aka 2001), but I’m not sure conditions have changed so dramatically that this wouldn’t still be true today.

The key question: so what?

Administration is one of many spiritual gifts (charisms). Ordination–like baptism–causes ontological change, but doesn’t include the Holy Spirit pouring out or increasing the spiritual gift of ordination in every person ordained a deacon, priest, or bishop (but probably some, thankfully!).

If priests are spending a much higher proportion of time on administration versus their other individual spiritual needs, needs of parish, and/or their unique charisms, then this is problematic. etc. We should want to correct this because of “charism-mismatch” more than a localized “priest shortage.”

This is a benchmark. A comparison to other like, but not identical, organizations (Protestant congregations). Catholic congregations are much larger, on average, than non-Catholic ones. So–there is probably more administrative work. Interestingly, Catholic priests report statistically similar percentages of time spent on “denominational and community affairs.” So no, don’t blame the diocese right away for the difference ;-).

My take aways:

1. Rely on Church teaching (especially Canon Law), rather than custom (aka the way we’ve always seen it done around here…) to determine what tasks, roles, and responsibilities are most (in many cases, only!) suited for the ordained minister.

2. In other areas, discern spiritual gifts, natural talents, and developed competencies among ministers, staff, and volunteers to match the gifts with the parish’s needs.

3. It seems unlikely (but, I admit, not impossible) that a dramatically higher proportion of Catholic priests have the spiritual gift of administration compared to those called to ministry in non-Catholic contexts, thus making it good that we’re “using” this gift so much more often. Instead, anecdotally what many in the pews report is that it’s harder to get spiritual care or be known within a Catholic parish. You could be a member for ten years. Drift away. And never receive a call or even note from the pastor or other ministerial staff. While this is due to size, it’s probably also a zero-sum side effect of all that extra pastor-time spent on administration.

4. Part of administration in this survey included meeting attendance. Carefully consider, who needs to be at a meeting? Does there need to be a meeting? And, why is the pastor here? In many cases, it’s out of habit, a sense of obligation, or a culture where the task, plan, or decision to be made is only valid if a priest is present. Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran address the need to take this on in Tools for Rebuilding. This could be another good way for priests to gain back more time for their unique charisms and gifts of ordination.

5. Many Catholic parishes find themselves in a financial spiral (not enough disciples, thus not enough spiritual givers, thus not enough money to hire disciple-makers) that prevents hiring more staff. Think about volunteers! Can you use volunteers more creatively in line with their gifts and talents to take on administrative work? Most parishes readily ask for volunteer ministers when it comes to communion to the homebound, lectoring, music ministry, catechesis, greeting, and more–but what about around the office?

Bottom line: Catholic parishes will usually (on average) require more administrative work than non-Catholic ones due to larger size. But let’s not let it get out of hand to the spiritual detriment of the local flock. And, most importantly, let’s try to cooperate with our gifts of the Holy Spirit more often, rather than assign administrative responsibilities in a mechanistic fashion.